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Age a cruel reality for Jeter

Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees walks

Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees walks back to the dugout after flying out in the fifth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Yankee Stadium. Jeter suffered a sore right calf on the play and left the game. Credit: Getty

We can safely pronounce this the autumn of Derek Jeter's brilliant career now, and with that comes a recurring theme. One that visited Yankee Stadium Monday night:

Reality trumps mythology.

Just as it appeared that Jeter might rally to attain his 3,000th hit this week at Yankee Stadium, before the Yankees took off for a six-game road trip, the team captain departed Monday night's game in the sixth inning, citing what the Yankees called a Grade 1 strain of his right calf (following an MRI). Eduardo Nuñez took Jeter's place, and the Yankees proceeded to drop a 1-0 decision to the Indians.

Not shockingly, the end of the Yankees' three-game winning streak didn't occupy much postgame conversation. Nor did A.J. Burnett's outstanding performance against Cleveland. Instead, concern loomed about Jeter, and based on both the announced diagnosis and the words spoken by fellow Yankees, it would hardly be a shock if the Yankees placed Jeter on the disabled list Tuesday.

"Obviously, we're worried about it," Joe Girardi said.

"He's not going to come out of the game unless it's something serious," Mark Teixeira said.

In his first at-bat of the night, Jeter singled to leftfield for hit 2,994. That gave him the rest of Monday night's game plus the next three to wrap up this milestone at home, a task that looked increasingly possible.

Until the injury altered those ambitions. Upended the fairy tale.

Ironically, the injury could very well sideline him long enough that Jeter will wind up collecting No. 3,000 at home, anyway. No way he wanted that to happen like this, however.

Yup, like the rest of us, Jeter is getting old.

To be fair, Jeter -- who will turn 37 this month -- hasn't visited the disabled list since 2003, when he dislocated his left shoulder and missed six weeks. The quality of his game, however, has dropped precipitously since a terrific 2009.

We know that the past winter didn't proceed at all as Jeter hoped. He wanted quiet, pleasant negotiations with the Yankees for a contract extension. He also wanted a lot more money than the Yankees wanted to give him, which led to loud, unpleasant exchanges of opinion.

Spring training? Jeter freely discussed his revised batting stance, but by late March, serious concerns existed within the organization about his offensive potential. By late April, Jeter essentially had reverted to his old mechanics.

And the hopes for a bounceback season had pretty much petered out. Jeter entered Monday night with wins above replacement (WAR) counts of -0.1, according to Baseball-Reference.com, and 0.5, according to FanGraphs.com. That puts him either slightly above a replacement-level player -- someone you'd call up from Triple-A as a short-term fill-in -- or a tick below that caliber.

This homestand quest for 3,000, therefore, offered a rejuvenation burst. An opportunity to show that he still could rev up the old engine and live up to that "Captain Clutch" nickname.

He initiated the homestand needing 14 hits in 10 games, and through Monday night, he managed to go 8-for-31 (.258) with a walk and a hit-by-pitch. That's very much in line with his .260 batting average for the season. In other words, he didn't step up.

We didn't get the myth of the resurgent hero, beating the clock. Just the reality of an aging star. One who, let's face it, needs to be moved down in the lineup, at least against righthanded starting pitchers, sooner than later upon his return.

He'll still get the deserved adulation whenever he gets back on the field and completes his milestone climb. The climax just won't be quite as storybook as it could have been.

New York Sports